Sometimes, Equipment Matters

Tuftonboro Sunset Jan 4, 2019 ISO 50 - f13 - 20 sec

Tuftonboro Sunset
Jan 4, 2019
ISO 50 - f13 - 20 sec

I am not a gear head and I don’t want this blog to be about gear. Truthfully, the technical aspects of photography and camera gear bore me. I’m sure that it is really important and I’m happy that the techies at Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, etc. pay attention to it. Obviously, cameras today are much better than previous generations and there are all sorts of technical reasons why, but none of really interests me - I trust that the experts are, well, experts.

People ask me why I chose Canon over Nikon (this was before mirrorless became a thing) and they don’t always believe me when I say that the Canon camera body was more comfortable in my hand than the Nikon. I had two comparable models in price and features, went to Best Buy and held both in my hand and liked the Canon.

Admittedly, over time I have upgraded to a full framed camera and I’m sure that someday I will go mirrorless so I have paid some attention to gear over time as my photography has evolved, but I buy gear now to serve my needs, not because of extra megapixels or obscure lab results.

What matters more about my gear is what I have in my bag and why. So when I went to Lake Winnipesaukee this week and planned to shoot sunset, I not only carried my trusty 17-35 wide angle which is great for landscapes, but my 70-200 telephoto (which I almost forgot I had in my bag).

Standing on a snow covered dock in Tuftonboro, I wanted a composition that included the dock in the foreground, the lake (which was part standing water, part ice) in the mid ground, with a colorful sunset overhead stretching to the horizon. With high wispy clouds above, I thought I was going to get it. However, the overhead color never really materialized, instead remaining close to the horizon. That was a problem because I could see in my viewfinder that the wide angle lens was going to result in a small, insignificant sunset all too far away.

Lamenting my bad luck, I took my iPhone out, zoomed into far off dock and sent it too my wife saying, “The sunset is too far away, it’s not coming together.” She quickly texted back saying that she liked the picture of the dock (of course she likes the iPhone pic) to which I thought, yeah, if only I could zoom in closer.

Wait… my long lens is in the bag.

I quickly switched lenses, recomposed and metered off the far away dock. There was enough light to keep the ISO at the lowest possible setting. I needed a longer exposure to ensure that the open water would be smooth, which also helped to enhance the reflection of the color in the sky. Moments after being down for the conditions not coming together as I hoped, I had a really useful shot, one that I find quite compelling, and one that would not have happened if not for the longer lens.

The longer lens accomplished three things for this composition. First, it compressed the scene narrowing the distance between the the dock and the distant horizon. Second, it made the dock and sunset the focal points of the image. And finally, and most importantly, it eliminated the colorless sky that was over the dock I was standing on.

While both images would have included water, ice, a dock, and a colorful sky, the longer lens produced an image much more compelling than one that the wide angle lens would have produced. I’m sure that there are all sorts of physics that can mathematically explain why the long lens image is better, but ultimately the equipment mattered because it made the image more compelling.